What is an Optometrist?
An optometrist is a medical professional concerned with the eyes and their physical structure, as well as overall vision, visual systems, and visual information processing. While the certification process varies internationally, optometrists are generally qualified to diagnose and treat diseases and disorders of the entire visual system, as well as to prescribe medications that will help a patient meet their treatment goals. Even though they are not physicians (like an ophthalmologist is), they are afforded many of the same rights and privileges as other types of doctors.
What does an Optometrist do?
Optometrists spend most of their time testing the vision systems of their patients. The qualities tested include the ability to focus and coordinate the eye, gauge depth perception, and accurately distinguish between colours. When an optometrist ascertains that a patient has an issue with an aspect of their vision, he or she will prescribe the appropriate treatment for the ailment, from corrective eyewear, to medication and surgery.
Take the example of a patient presented with glaucoma: Optometrists often may be the first medical professional to recognize this disease in their patients. Glaucoma is a disease of the optical nerve and it is often diagnosed after a battery of vision and pressure tests of the eye, all of which are aimed at identifying the telltale signs of nerve damage. There are a variety of treatments from which an optometrist will choose, based on the specific condition of the patient and nature of the glaucoma. This will range from medication, to drainage implants, to surgery. Often times for glaucoma, the best option for the patient will simply be medication, but the optometrist will always be prepared to take more drastic action if the disease and situation warrants, such as the aforementioned surgical and implant options.
In addition to concerning themselves with the vision systems of their patients, there are many clues to overall patient wellbeing as well as general health and nutrition factors that optometrists may notice over the course of a standard vision test. They often can detect systemic diseases based on evidence they find during these tests, providing a vital primary care service to their patients.
What is the workplace of an Optometrist like?
Optometrists operate in a fast-paced professional environment. Most patient visits can last for no longer than 15 minutes, which is typically all the time required to run the battery of tests, so there is often a high volume of patients that come through an optometrist's doors. Many optometrists enjoy the number of different people they get to meet and interact with on any given day, so it helps to be a personable individual who enjoys the company of others.
Optometrists must also interact with government officials, other health care professionals, and the general community throughout their scope of practice. Optometry is considered a vital part of public health as many of the social and safety cues we all rely on require a healthy pair of eyes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Steps to becoming an Optometrist
The first step to become an optometrist is completing at least three years of undergraduate study, though most people pursuing a career as an optometrist get a full bachelor of science degree. You need to maintain at least a 75% average to be accepted to an optometry program.
In addition to maintaining a high grades, it's necessary to pass the Optometry Admissions Test (OAT) in order to be considered for an optometry program. Merely passing, however, will likely not get you into an optometry program, as the competition is very high. It's important that you score as highly as possible on the OAT. You can take the test as many times as you need to, but there is a minimum 90 day waiting period between attempts.
The next step is to earn a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree from an accredited optometry school. This typically takes four years to complete and includes theoretical study as well as internship experience. If you want to specialize in a specific area, you will have to do post-graduate clinical training, which is called a residency.
After you finish your O.D. degree, you have to obtain your optometrist license in order to work. This is done by taking an exam that has both written and clinical elements. All states require optometrists to have a license, but some of the requirements vary state to state. You will have to renew your licence at various times throughout your career, so it's necessary to keep your skills sharp and stay up to date on the field. Many states will actually require continuing education in order to maintain your optometry license.
At this point you will be certified and ready to go, and it's just a matter of deciding where you want to work.
Should I become an Optometrist?
Being an optometrist is a great career in many regards, although as with any career, it's not for everyone.
Starting with the good, once they get through school and become licenced to practice, optometrists have very good job security. The population is aging, which means more and more people will develop eye problems and require the services of an optometrist. Optometry is expected to grow by 27% because of this.
The schedule for optometrists is fairly regular, although there may be a need for you to work some evenings/weekends to accommodate clients' needs.
While the average salary for an optometrist is quite high ($103k), the education does not come cheap. You'll be looking at roughly $150k-$250k for the whole process. So yes, optometrists make good money, but it is also expensive to get there.
Some of the potential challenges to being in this career are lack of variety and lack of job mobility. An optometrist's skillset is very specific, and this can be a problem if you ever desire a career change. Some optometrists also report that the work can be fairly monotonous, but it is a very noble profession and most optometrists love that they make people's lives better through their work.
Optometrists are also known as: